Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most commonly recommended supplements by medical and naturopathic doctors alike. Generically known for their anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy effects, omega-3 fatty acids have been scientifically proven to contribute to helping us live longer, healthier lives. But like all things in life, there are differences in these super-supplements: where is the fish source from, how much of it we are getting per capsule and whether or not there are added ingredients. The therapeutic effect of omega-3 supplementation is only as great as the quality and quantity of each dose, so let’s break down what you’re getting…
What are omega-3 fatty acids anyway?
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory molecules that are not synthesized by the body. This means, we must supplement with omega-3s or consume them in their whole food form (think salmon, chia seeds, flax) in order to obtain the nutrients, making them “essential” to our diet. Omega-3s can be further broken down into various kinds of fatty acids types that have especially potent anti-inflammatory and heart healthy effects. Two of these are known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
EPA inhibits platelet aggregation (AKA, it helps to prevent our blood from being too sticky). Food sources of EPA are oily fish, like anchovies, mackerel, salmon, and sardines, some seaweed. EPA is actually converted from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), but requires a lot of energy to do so. This is why supplementation is recommended.
DHA on the other hand is converted from EPA. It is the main structural component of our brains, lending it to receive a gold star for brain health and development. For this reason, pregnant women and infants are suggested to supplement with DHA. Like EPA, it can also be obtained from consuming fatty fish, however in order to achieve therapeutic effects, supplementation is usually necessary.
I’m going to supplement with omega-3s. What do I look for when purchasing my omega-3 supplements?
When choosing an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, first ask yourself what purpose will it serve? As discussed, the different forms of omega-3 fatty acids will aim to improve or resolve different health issues. For example, individuals with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, or gut conditions like leaky gut, may want to consider supplementation with a higher dose of EPA, the anti-inflammatory fatty acid, versus DHA, the fatty acid known to support brain health. Then, consider the dosage. It is most important to view the labels of the product to ensure it actually has a high dose, rather than simply marketed as such. A “high dose” of EPA is considered to be at least 1000mg per day. With a proper therapeutic dose, EPA significantly decreases inflammation, and improves intestinal permeability (prevention of tight junction disruption).
The other component you will want to look out for is the quality, and sourcing, of the fish. Supplement companies can obtain additional certification to validate the quality of their product in many cases. In the case of fish oil, look out for “Friends of the Sea” (FOS) Certified. NULife Therapeutics, for example, uses FOS Certified anchovy oil. This ensures that the fish have limited contaminants and no growth hormones, and that the fish are sustainably caught.
Lastly, look out for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used as either a main or additive ingredient. GMOs have been shown to increase gut permeability, therefore further contributing to leaky gut syndrome.
Is there any other information I should consider when purchasing an omega-3 fatty acid supplement?
Consider the price of the supplement you’re opting for: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is! Just because a product seems reasonably priced, and has twice the amount of capsules than a more-expensive product doesn’t mean the quality adds up. Consider the dosage when purchasing your omega-3 supplement. Ask yourself if you will be receiving the suggested therapeutic dose (i.e., 1000mg) per day as per the recommendations on the label.
And, as with anything, always read your labels thoroughly. Ensure that there are no added ingredients that are unnecessary (such as colouring or filler ingredients like soy). In some cases, supplement companies may add ingredients in to boost the therapeutic effect, like in NULife’s “Inflamin:” 300mg of turmeric extract is included since omega-3 fatty acids work synergistically with turmeric to enhance its absorption. Together they work to repair the digestive tract and provide potent, anti-inflammatory gastrointestinal relief. No other product on the market combines the healing power of turmeric with their omega’3 supplement.
Samantha Van De Wal, MEd, CNP is a certified holistic nutritionist and student of naturopathic medicine in Toronto, Ontario. By taking a holistic and functional approach to health, she has seen clients restore their bodies’ natural balance and feel amazing again. She shares her passion for holistic nutrition and functional medicine on her website, www.samanthavandewal.com, which includes information on her online programs, downloadable guides and recipes, and customizable meal plans made to get you feeling your best. When she’s not learning, creating, or helping clients, she’s rejuvenating by doing yoga or hanging out in nature.
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